Black Excellence

I’m a Black, Bipolar Veteran, Unsure Who Hates Me Most

mental illness, veteran and mental illness, black excellence
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]”I’m getting tired of blacks thinking they have a monopoly on suffering,” came the reply to my Facebook comment. I wrote: “Who said that?! Black people have a daily struggle, but stop demonizing them for lack of opportunity and prison recidivism.” Our exchange, of course, was prompted by a meme arguing the morality of toppling Confederate statues, and if violence was the answer.

I bet you haven’t even faced hate or been violated before. I’m gay. I know what it’s like to be hated. One of your “brothers” hit me during a BLM protest. ALL of you are the same!” That’s when he blocked me, and the debate stopped, not soon enough in my opinion. But that’s where we are now: blacks vs. gays vs. Klan vs. Antifa vs. cops. And maybe this is just my bipolar side (going from one extreme to another), but I still feel like I fit in that niche group getting the worse end of the deal.

As a boy growing up in Illinois, I learned to distrust not only cops, but every Brother I didn’t know; my biggest fear was that a bullet would make my acquaintance before its owner did. White men behind badges felt as dangerous and unpredictable as the murderers next door.

mental illness, veteran and mental illness, black excellence

Growing up in the early 90s, not trusting your neighbor was on equal terms with not trusting the cops. My home, in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes projects, was notorious for rapes and knifings in stairways, rats inside elevators, and gangland drive-bys that often put the wrong kids into coffins.

I spent six years in the South because of the military. Every single day was a war. Between getting called the N-word each time I had to walk somewhere (which was often because I didn’t have a car), getting water or trash tossed at me from speeding cars, not being allowed in restaurants, or not being able to serve a customer at the retail job I worked because I had that “unlucky” color, I gained a wealth of knowledge about the psychology of racist men.

mental illness, veteran and mental illness, black excellence

Moving to New York in 2010, Stop and Frisk scared me. Blacks and Browns were being flagged and cuffed with the greatest of urgency, on every street corner and at all train stations. Each time a minority hurt just one bystander on television, the beatings of all minority suspects got worse. I saw innocent men aggressively detained, but I also knew others who bragged about how guilty they were. I dared not say something when I saw something.

I was a homeless veteran, a bitter alcoholic, and a long-sufferer of bipolar disorder. I despised the Boys in Blue, as I would routinely get accosted, no matter how I looked or what I wore. I would produce my VA card, provide some background and see the sympathy on officers’ faces—their pity separated me from them, those boys they tossed in the backseat. I should have cherished those days a little more.

Then there were the murders of innocent civilians Philando Castile and Alton last year. Next came the Dallas and Baton Rouge massacres, perpetrated by former black prior servicemen who looked like me. A new stereotype was created. I’d spent years in therapy, working on my disorder, my anger, my post-traumatic stress. I’d managed to get and maintain an equilibrium, with medication, that many young vets, like those two gunmen, never attained. Unfortunately, assault weapons and rifles care little for origin stories.

And now, this year, race is the deciding factor in almost everything. The more racial, the more disturbed, the more to talk about in the news. I’ve really learned how divided we are, how idiosyncratic this thing gets. Since last year I’ve heard African Americans blame me for the shootings committed by those two black vets Micah X. Johnson and Gavin Long.

“Don’t you realize how little we need this right now?” Said my dark-skinned friend. “Blacks are getting shot just for being black and here your people go, making things worse!”

mental illness, veteran and mental illness, black excellence

Clarity has come through that exchange with the gay man online, the growing fear blacks have of being associated with black vets with mental health issues, through the violent clashes of people fighting over both LGBT and minority issues, and minority groups fighting other minority groups. It comes as little shock to me that fighting for the powerless would make them feel more powerless. I am shocked that I feel that way, though. I’ve been ostracized my entire life, by every group I’ve ever known.

Hadn’t things been getting better? Did people hate having a black president, gay rights, and low-priced healthcare that much that they filtered their hate across each group of society, even when it meant one group would be contradicting itself in what battle it was fighting? Can I ever go back to just being a black vet who doesn’t have to feel ousted by every community he’d like to stick roots into? I don’t know. But at least I’m still one of 321 million Americans who share the burden of uncertainty. There’s some comfort in that.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Alex Miller

Alex Miller is a freelance writer living in Harlem. His work has appeared in Forbes, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other places.